Skills: six priorities10 October 2017
In August, for Part I of a special report on training and recruitment, NEI spoke to industry about the priorities for skills development in the UK. This article highlights the common themes and issues raised.
Today, 65,000 people are employed in the UK nuclear sector, with the majority located in northwest England at Sellafield in Cumbria, and surrounding areas. Nuclear new-build projects at Hinkley Point C (Somerset), Wylfa Newydd (Anglesey) and Moorside (Cumbria) could create an additional 50,000 job opportunities during construction, with 3000 or more permanent roles once the units become operational, according to the Nuclear Industry Association’s jobs map, published in June. Already, figures show that employment in the South West where Hinkley Point C is under construction has increased from 7400 in 2016 to 8200 in 2017.
With jobs expected to double in the UK, the availability of a skilled workforce is vital. It is not just young graduates or apprentices that the sector needs to attract. However, in a competitive jobs landscape, this remains relevant, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach is a priority for organisations across the nuclear sector. Looking at the so-called ‘skills gap,’ common issues highlighted include a scarcity of talent in the 30-40 age bracket, as well as need to replace subject matter experts who are retiring after decades in the nuclear industry. Diversity is also high on the agenda. Women currently make up just over a fifth of the UK’s nuclear workforce, but the consensus is that this must improve. Concerted efforts are being made across the industry and in the wider community.
There is a sizable age gap between new entrants to the nuclear industry and subject matter experts. As we heard from Jean Llewellyn, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN), this area is where the industry needs to attract skilled engineers and scientists from other sectors. “The nuclear industry has a good inflow of new blood and experts, but in the middle bracket, there is a shortage of suitably qualified and experienced personnel. These would be people that run nuclear sites in future,” Llewellyn says.
This is where the industry should be looking to attract people from other sectors, such as Oil & Gas. There are education/training programmes in place that can ‘nuclearise’ people with existing skill sets so they can use their abilities and experience in a nuclear context.
This thought was echoed by David Vineall, Human Resources Director, Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who told the NIA New Build Conference in June that “The acutest shortage is not served by graduate recruitment; the issue at the moment is in middle management.”
He also called for people to “join the nuclear sector and not a particular company.”
If there is a head-to-head competition for engineers, there is a chance that nuclear industry could lose out to O&G or other sectors with higher salaries, according to Callum Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of the nuclear recruiter, Thomas Thor Associates.
Interestingly Thomas does not believe there is a ‘skills gap’ – not yet, at least – although he does note there is a squeeze in certain areas, such as I&C engineering, project control and hiring senior people with rare skill sets.
A recent survey by the Global Energy Talent Index also found that the nuclear industry may need to increase wages to retain staff, especially in countries with expanding nuclear programmes.
Across the whole economy, the UK faces skills shortages in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths (STEM) subjects. This global challenge, says Mike Roberts, Director of Corporate Services at Nuvia, is heightened further for businesses that operate in specialist sectors. “This is especially the case in nuclear, which has traditionally demanded that people demonstrate significant practical experience as well as having the right technical capabilities,” Roberts says. Nuvia is already seeing results from its STEM promotion, with a record Apprentice intake in 2016.
Horizon Nuclear Power, which is hoping to build a nuclear power plant at Wylfa Newydd in the UK, told NEI how it had developed close links with schools and colleges, visiting children from the age of 7 up to teenagers and young adults. Mark Salisbury, training manager at Horizon pointed out that the industry needs both graduate engineers and apprentices. The idea of the training programme and the educational outreach activities is to ensure that there is a regular flow of suitably qualified people – “an educational supply chain”, as Salisbury put it.
Jean Llewellyn, head of NSAN told NEI that a “big issue” in the nuclear sector is a need for greater diversity. Currently, 21% of the UK’s nuclear workforce is female. But companies across the industry are committed to tackling the gender imbalance.
EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious STEM outreach campaign, targeted at teenage girls, has led to a direct increase in female applicants for EDF’s engineering programmes. In 2016, one in five recruited onto EDF Energy’s apprenticeship programme were women. The national average is just 4%. The company is hoping to increase female intake into STEM apprenticeships to 30% by 2018, according to Barbara Jones, HR Director and Board Member for EDF Energy’s Nuclear New Build Projects.
Knowledge management and skills retention
Some 70% of the UK nuclear workforce is expected to retire by 2025. The demographics mean that many nuclear specialists and subject matter experts (SMEs) will retire before successors can be developed. As such, there is a clear need to accelerate the development of these future leaders, according to Llewellyn of NSAN. In the near term, gaps can be filled using research programmes, mentoring schemes and through targeted training plans.
At Springfields, Westinghouse runs a five-year Nuclear Engineering Degree Apprenticeship programme, designed to allow graduates to undertake a broad range of engineering and specialist technical training. The programme aims to “close anticipated capability gaps for the [nuclear] sector in the UK,” according to Sarah Moore, Europe, Middle East and Africa Region Talent and Development Management Manager at Westinghouse. Nuvia, too, is expanding its leadership and line management programmes to ensure the availability of a sufficiently experienced team when needed. EDF Energy has launched a new commercial apprenticeship programme, where those on the scheme study for five years for a university-level qualification while also gaining hands on nuclear experience.
On a collaborative level, between 2014 and 2016 the Nuclear Industrial Partnership project involving the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), NSAN and Manchester’s Dalton Institute, focused on developing nuclear SMEs for the future. Over 100 people completed the programme, developing high- level niche skills. It is hoped that similar scheme could be launched as part of the Nuclear Sector Deal to meet the critical skills requirements.